City of Aspen’s child care priorities advance from crawling to walking stage
Increasing capacity with new facilities, extended days and hours help support local workforce and economy, officials say
After several weeks of talks, the city of Aspen and day care providers at the taxpayer-funded Yellow Brick may be a bit closer in negotiations on the terms of leases, which could affect nearly 100 families who rely on subsidized child care.
Two providers, Playgroup Aspen and Aspen Mountain Tots, announced last month they would be ceasing their operations if the city changed their lease terms from operating four days per week to five in an effort to increase capacity in child care.
That is what was decided last year by the Kids First Advisory Board, following direction of Aspen City Council, which made increasing child care capacity one of its priorities.
And utilizing a city-owned building to offer child care during a full work week is just one way to capitalize on capacity, along with building new facilities at Colorado Mountain College and at the third phase of the Burlingame Ranch housing subdivision across from Buttermilk Mountain.
Council member Rachel Richards said during Monday’s work session during an update to the council that child care classrooms at the Yellow Brick, located in Aspen’s West End neighborhood, should be full all the time, as should the new ones once they are built.
“I do think that we look at the utilization of this public asset, which, I would take a random guess, it’s probably close to $5 million of investment, if not more, between security, boilers, roofing, staff and everything else, re-carpeting — we’ve put a lot of money into making that a wonderful facility for wonderful kids,” she said. “I’d like to have as many wonderful kids able to benefit from that as possible.”
When notified about the stipulation of operating five days instead of four, which would be solidified in leases that take effect in 2023, the owners of the two providers said it wouldn’t be financially feasible for their operations. They said they would close.
Since those announcements, Aspen City Council members have been inundated with emails and phone calls by concerned citizens and parents worried about how they would be able to work without day care.
In the meantime, city officials, Kids First Advisory Board members and child care providers have been negotiating.
“There have been a number of suggestions that have come our way, and those are all being considered,” Mayor Torre said.
Assistant City Manager Diane Foster said the providers will be talking to the Kids First Advisory Board on Feb. 4 about their requested lease changes.
“We are working to keep the current providers,” she told council Monday. “They are putting things in writing what they’d like to see, and I am working with (Kids First Director Shirley Ritter), as well as our two board co-chairs.”
Council member Ward Hauenstein said ideally, he’d like to see child care offered at the Yellow Brick seven days per week, and he applauded the advisory board for making the tough decision to require providers to operate five days per week.
“I think it’s good to increase capacity by building more but utilizing the space we have. … There’s nobody that is supplying child care over the weekends, and I think we have a workforce that works on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.
Ritter reported that the results of a survey last summer about child care on the city’s online outreach platform, which was modified and used in the towns of Snowmass Village and Basalt, 52% of 451 respondents prefer full-time care five days per week and 38% preferred full days but less than five days per week.
The biggest barriers for respondents were lack of space, specifically for infants and toddlers, and cost, followed by hours and location not being ideal.
Kids First Advisory Board co-chair Stefan Reveal told council that there is a severe shortage of spaces for infants, which is a big reason many families move and do not stay in the local workforce.
“I am asking you as the City Council to keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is that 32 infant spaces is not enough, and all the small tweaking at the Yellow Brick will not get us significantly improved numbers,” Reveal said.
Infant spaces are about to increase almost 20% as the city is moving closer to offering eight of them at CMC.
The classroom, provided by CMC, is being renovated to accommodate a child care facility for infants and should be up and running this winter, once an operator is found.
Just up Highway 82 at Burlingame Ranch, a contract for a design team to conceptualize a new child care facility will come before council for approval next month.
It’s envisioned to be a 8,345-square-foot, two-level child care center that would accommodate 70 children, including infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
The cost estimate is roughly $8 million, and the city would look for partners and grants to offset some of the price.
Council member John Doyle said he’s impressed with all of the work done thus far on the child care front.
“I’m glad we are moving what seems like fairly quickly,” he said. “It was just last summer that we made it one of our top three priorities so thanks to staff, thanks to Kids First, and I really think we are on the right track here.”
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